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The goodbye blues.
You’ve spent the past year cuddling, feeding, and bonding with your sweet babe. So thinking about returning to work is making you kinda anxious. Not only that, but your little monkey’s about to get her first dose of reality: daycare. Being separated for nine hours and cared for by strangers in a strange place… uh, ‘kinda’ anxious just got upgraded to ‘red alert’.
New childcare, new challenges. But there are ways to make it easier, for both of you.
The first step is explaining what’s about to go down using as many props and books you can find. Your tot has no idea what daycare is, so put it in Little People School terms. We’ve been doing our version of The Kissing Hand for five years with our first – it still comforts him even in grade one. It wasn’t exactly the right book for our second daycare-starter when he was only sixteen months, but we skipped some details to tell a story catered to his attention span… success.
Involving your munchkin is the most important part of prepping so she’s not totally blindsided. Take her on a tour, introduce her teacher, and chat about the impending changes A LOT. Discuss the new routine in detail, so you can finesse it pre-D-day, and get her input on as many decisions as possible (as long you’re okay with either choice). For example:
- “When you wake up, would you prefer to get dressed or have breakfast first?” Dressing first means not having to go upstairs again… maybe. It could alternatively mean a wardrobe change post-milk-spill.
- “Do you want to choose your outfit the night before or in the morning?” Not a good option for a dawdler.
- “Would you prefer to take your baby or your blankie to daycare?” Having something from home is SUPER reassuring. When our then-five year-old’s camp wouldn’t allow toys from home, we got around it by choosing something that fit in his pocket. He called an eraser his iPhone, and used to pretend call us throughout the day. One of us kept it close on her last business trip… just sayin’.
- “Should we kiss goodbye in the car or once we get inside?” It might be sweeter/less rushed in the car; daycare morning madness can up anyone’s stress levels.
- “Should I walk into your room with you or say goodbye at the door?” We’re in the habit of not crossing the line… the threshold helps to make a clean break.
- “Do you want me to blow you one last kiss or should I wink and then go?” Decide EXACTLY how to split and don’t deviate!
- “After I leave, are you going to play at the kitchen or do playdough?” It’ll help her skip that sadness/shyness reluctance if she knows what to do when you go.
- “If one of us starts to cry, should we do an extra hand-kiss or should I just leave?” With A LOT of prep and a super-easy-kid, there might not be any fuss. But it’s REALLY smart to have a plan in case those eyes start to well. It’s also smart to follow-through on your agreed-upon game-plan and then walk away… even if you have to pry her off first.
You can still ask and explain even if she’s too young to carry a conversation. It’s truly amazing how much language babies have. Adapt the choice for her age and abilities, as in “Do you want to walk in or should I carry you?” or, if walking’s not your cuddler’s forte, “When I carry you in, should I hand you to your teacher for a hug or would you prefer to play?” If your cutie-pie stares silently, give her a minute before replying with the choice you think is best – she’ll surprise you with an answer one day soon if you keep asking the questions.
She’ll need time to adapt, especially if she’s still in diapers, so it’s helpful if you’re around. The slow-band-aid-pull requires a full week, which could conveniently coincide with your last week of mat leave. On Monday, spend the first “day” in the classroom with her, and only stay about an hour. Tuesday can be a side-by-side morning, and by Wednesday you can leave her alone, go for a coffee, and be back before circle time. She can spend Thursday morning solo, and on Friday, drop her off, get your hair done, buy new work clothes, lunch at leisure (if you can remember how!), and pick her up after nap-time (bonus points if you siesta too!). The quick band-aid-rip will also work, just with a few more tears. Depending on your work and daycare rules it might be the only option, so bring extra tissues!
As with everything parenting, consistency, routines, reassurance, and honesty go a long way. She’ll be fine. Before long, she’ll be crying because she doesn’t want to leave. Hopefully you’ll survive too.
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